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Clipped wings

shocking Unsustainable developmental policies and rising insensitivity towards ...
Last Updated : 13 April 2015, 15:37 IST
Last Updated : 13 April 2015, 15:37 IST

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It was a strange sight indeed. On our side of the mudflats, carpenters and mechanics were hammering and banging away, repairing the boats docked along the jetty; at the far end, we could see a chemical fertiliser factory, two oil refineries and a thermal power plant. And, in between, oblivious to the noise and pollution, were scores of flamingos, feeding off the mudflat. We were at Mumbai’s Sewri jetty, which doubles up as a flamingo observation point every winter. But environmentalists fear this may be a thing of the past very soon. The construction of the proposed 22-km long freeway, the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link, between Sewri and Nhava, poses a threat to the Sewri mudflat, a habitat of Lesser Flamingos, a near-threatened species.

The Sewri mudflat is not the only place which is threatened by wrong policy implementation, observes Raju Kasambe, project manager-IBA Programme, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).The UK-based conservation organisation, BirdLife International, at the recently held World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia, published a research report that gives details of the important bird and biodiversity areas (IBAs) in danger across the globe; the list includes 10 habitats “in danger” across India.

BNHS, which does not oppose the idea of the sea link as such, had requested the project implementation body, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), to realign the freeway’s starting point in Sewri about 600 metres to the south of the proposed route. But the MMRDA is not willing to accede to the request; instead, it has proposed to use mitigation measures such as sound barriers and other noise-muffling technology. But environmentalists believe that the huge movement of people and machinery can frighten the birds away, who may not return to the mudflats.

Similarly, the Flamingo City in Gujarat’s Kutch region is facing a threat from a road construction project. This site has been selected by IBA based on its importance as a breeding ground of the Greater Flamingo in India. This is the only known site in India where the Rosy Pelican has been found breeding. A 262-km long road through the bird sanctuary to facilitate the movement of the Border Security Force (BSF) in the area has been proposed. According to Raju, the road through the sanctuary will not only disturb the breeding colony but also result in loss of habitat for other fauna such as the Indian wild ass. There is already an existing road that the BSF uses, he points out.

Four IBAs in Madhya Pradesh, a state famous worldwide for its tiger reserves, are facing a variety of threats. They are Sailana Kharmor Sanctuary in Ratlam, the Dihaila Jheel and the Karera Wildlife Sanctuary in Shivpuri, and the Sardarpur Florican Sanctuary in Dhar. The grasslands of Sailana Kharmor Sanctuary is a protected area since 1983 to save the highly endangered Lesser Florican, locally known as kharmor (grass peacock). Now it is being threatened by encroaching croplands that are taking over the florican habitat.

BNHS experts have also found that the Sailana grasslands are good breeding grounds for the endemic Sykes’ Crested Lark while hundreds of European rollers, and blue-cheeked as well as blue-tailed bee-eaters are seen on passage migration. The florican sanctuary in Dhar, established following the recommendation of late Dr Salim Ali, is being threatened by human settlements, livestock grazing, and water scarcity.

Grasslands in India are often seen as wastelands, Raju says. Hence, local people and even policy makers try to convert these lands into agricultural plots or commercial areas. Most of the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) sanctuaries have fallen prey to such misplaced zeal, especially the GIB sanctuary in Maharashtra’s Solapur – Ahmednagar belt. Being near the national capital has not helped the Basai wetland of Gurgaon in Haryana. The migratory bird count of this wetland has shown a decline in recent years, mainly because of habitat loss due to human encroachment.

But then, a remote location has not helped another IBA, Tillangchong in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This sanctuary remains uninhabited for most of the year, except when the indigenous Nicobarese people, as part of their customary rights, come to hunt for wild pigs. Tillanchong is home to virtually all the animal species found in the Nicobar archipelago, including endemic bird species such as the Nicobar Megapode, Nicobar Sparrowhawk, Glossy Swiftlet, Ediblenest Swiftlet, Andaman Woodpigeon, and Nicobar Parakeet. The Indian Navy had sought permission for temporary use (7-10 days in a year) of the island for missile testing and as a target for testing the accuracy of missiles fired from the sea.

Subsequently, the chief wildlife warden and Asad R Rahmani, director, BNHS, visited the site to test the impact of the test firing on the Nicobar Megapode, a ground-nesting bird. It was found that the construction of the radar station, proposed to be built on a hillock where these endemic birds live would cause significant damage to the bird colony. Although the proposal has been scrapped for now these areas need utmost protection, “If we are really serious about saving the threatened species of birds in India,” says Raju.

That involvement of the local people can help in saving wildlife and natural areas from the brink of destruction has been amply proved by the return of the Amur falcons in Nagaland. Although hunting the falcon for food was not unknown, the mass killing in 2012 (around 120,000 birds killed in a week) in Nagaland was a matter of great concern. While the government took measures to ensure that hunting did not take place, local village councils and NGOs, such as the Natural Nagas, began to convince people of the importance of allowing these birds a safe passage. The past two years have yielded satisfactory result, with no trapping or hunting reported.

So, with adequate support from the government and by convincing the local people to come ahead to protect the IBAs in danger, we may still save the endangered fauna and their homelands.

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Published 13 April 2015, 15:37 IST

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